forgiving, forgiven (three)

"The Return of the Prodigal Son" by Rembrandt
This week we at University Hill Congregation gather for the third of seven conversations about Christian practices of forgiveness. When we gather we will be discussing our reading of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the short story "Revelation" by Flannery O'Connor and the concluding chapter of Henri Nouwen's book "The Return of the Prodigal Son". I am looking forward to the group's response to these readings and, in particular, to its reaction to "Revelation". A favorite story of mine, it is unfamiliar to many in the congregation. As I look ahead to Sunday when we will mark All Saints Day I notice that the scriptures are similarly revelatory (Isaiah 25:6-9 & Revelation 21:1-6a) and so the sermon has the working title: "The Revelation". I wonder how to capture something of the surprising revelation that occurs in O'Connor's story in this week's sermon. In the meantime, here is the worksheet for this week's conversation about Christian practices of forgiveness ...

“Lost & Found”

* Read Luke 15:1-32. Notice the scene of the chapter as it is set in vss. 1 & 2. What is it that upsets the Pharisees and the scribes? Why are they upset by this? Who does Jesus keep company with now? Who grumbles as a result?

In the Parable of the Prodigal Son which character do you most identify with? Why?

Have you experienced being lost and then found? Have you experienced losing and then finding something or someone of great value? What stands out in your memory of the event(s)? In what ways might forgiveness be the means of finding something precious that has been lost?

Are these three parables about our relationship with God or about our relationships with one another or about both?

* In Flannery O’Connor’s story “Revelation” one of the characters - Mrs. Ruby Turpin - experiences a revelation. What is revealed to her? Is this a story of judgment or of grace or of both?

Is Mrs. Turpin more like the prodigal son or the elder brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son?

* In the conclusion to his book “The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of HomecomingHenri Nouwen finds himself “Becoming the Father.” In looking at Rembrandt’s painting of the return of the prodigal Nouwen comes “to the awareness that my final vocation is indeed to become like the Father and to live out his divine compassion in my daily life. Though I am both the younger son and the elder son, I am not to remain them, but to become the Father” (p. 121). He points to Matthew 5:43-48 which concludes with Jesus’ command that his disciples “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.” Nouwen says that this is “perhaps the most radical statement Jesus ever made” (p. 123). What makes this such a radical teaching? What does it look like when we obey Jesus’ command?

Nouwen names three ways to embody the compassion of the God: grief, forgiveness and generosity. Of grief he writes “there is no compassion without many tears” (p. 128). Of forgiveness he says that it requires us to step over our arguments against the wisdom of forgiveness, to step over our needs for gratitude and compliments and, finally, to step over “that wounded part of my heart that feels hurt and wronged and that wants to stay in control and put a few conditions between me and the one who I am asked to forgive” (p. 130). Of generosity Nouwen writes: “Every time I take a step in the direction of generosity, I know that I am moving from fear to love” (p. 131). Which of these comes most naturally to you? Which do you find most difficult?

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